Known for: more than 35 women's aviation records
Ruth Nichols was born in New York City. Her father, who claimed descent from Leif Ericson, had been one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and her mother was a strict Quaker -- a combination which led to a confusing and complicated childhood.
For her high school graduation, her father presented Ruth Nichols with an opportunity to ride in a place with Eddie Stinson, ace pilot of World War I. She began secretly studying to fly even as she studied at Wellesley College, planning for a career as a physician. Shortly after her graduation from Wellesley, Ruth Nichols became the first woman in the world to earn an international hydroplane license. In 1927, she was one of the first two women to receive a Department of Commerce transport license.
Joining Harry Rogers for a flight from New York to Miami in 1927 on New Year's Eve led to public recognition for Ruth Nichols. Fairchild Airplane and Engine Company offered her a sales position, and she tried a number of ventures connected with sports flying.
With the Depression, Ruth Nichols turned to competitive flying, and in 1930 went to work for Crescent Aircraft where the company would allow her to spend most of her time in competitions. She began to make a name for herself as an aviatrix.
In 1931, Ruth Nichols broke three major women's records: altitude, speed and distance. Although she failed in her attempt to cross the Atlantic, injuring her back, and even saw her plane go up in flames the day after breaking the women's distance record with her flight from Oakland, California, to Louisville, Kentucky, Nichols worked to raise funds to replace her plane. In 1932 she also was part of the "good will tour" promoting the International Congress of Women in Chicago for 1933.
Her dream of being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic was shattered when Amelia Earhart achieved that feat in May, 1932. (Years later, she'd join Earhart in founding the Ninety-Nines, an organization promoting women pilots.) Ruth Nichols tried a flight from New York to Los Angeles for another record, but her planned record-breaking flight failed again due to plane failure. She did, however, achieve more notoriety with that flight by using it to drop campaign literature for Herbert Hoover.
Continuing to lecture and to raise funds, as well as to fly as often as possible, in 1935 Ruth Nichols was badly injured in a flaming crash during an emergency landing of a transport plane in Troy, New York.
After this, Ruth Nichols worked to apply her aviation skills to humanitarian projects. In 1939, she founded the Relief Wings, a civilian air ambulance service, and by the fall of 1941 had established centers in most states. This project was absorbed into the official Civil Air Patrol when the US entered the war in December 1941.
Ruth Nichols worked as a nurse and flight instructor during the war, and in 1948 piloted a world tour for UNICEF. Nichols continued to set new records, in 1958 setting women's speed and altitude records. In 1960, she was found in her New York apartment, apparently a suicide.
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